No one deserves to be the victim of racist abuse – Anna Lo

I’d like to say I was surprised by the racist and other abuse I received in the wake of my call to remove election posters, flags and paramilitary murals from along the route of the Giro d’Italia but sadly I wasn’t.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve been the victim of such vitriolic comments from faceless bullies. I am in politics and know with that comes a level of debate, discussion and differences of opinion. But no-one deserves to be the victim of racist abuse.

Racism has no place in our society, much in the same way that sectarianism or countless other methods of bigotry should not be tolerated.

It is sad when people have to resort to your nationality as a means of attack. It was incredibly disappointing that people on social media feel there was no alternative but to bring race into their arguments. It is sad they were not able to articulate their thoughts and desires in any other way.

It’s an easy cliché to state but the people behind these disgusting comments, remarks that bring shame to Northern Ireland as a whole, are nothing more than a vocal minority. People from Northern Ireland are among the most welcoming population of anywhere across the entire world. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to live here. It’s an area of great beauty and friendly people, a place that has always been welcoming to those of all different backgrounds and which has a proud record of standing up against racism. That was illustrated to me again by the sheer volume of people who contacted me this week to offer their support and encouragement. I would like to take this opportunity to personally thank all those who sent me messages of support. I even believe that the twitter hashtag ‘#istandwithanna’ was trending on Tuesday night.

I have no problem admitting the abuse hurt me. I have always made it a point of pride to speak for the community as a whole, no matter what background or area someone is from, so to go on such a personal attack stung me.

But it will not make me shy away from speaking out in my role as an elected representative on issues that need tackled. Flags and sectarian murals are such matters. We need to have a debate about them, as opposed to keep pushing it down and ignoring it. The Giro d’Italia is a perfect opportunity to put this matter on the table and deal with it once and for all. Do we want the estimated 800 million people watching worldwide to see sectarian demarcation and one eye on the past or a Northern Ireland confident with itself, looking to the future and projecting a positive image that will attract tourism and business?

This online abuse will not prevent Alliance representatives from being committed to our goal of a truly shared future for everyone. Some of what my colleagues have gone through, particularly in just over the past year, would be enough to make anyone think again.

But it has done nothing but increase Alliance’s determination, a resolve to help everyone in our society, including those too scared to speak out in opposition to paramilitary murals being painted in their communities, in order to make this place somewhere we would be proud to show to the world.

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